The security situation in the Southeast has gone from bad to worse in the last couple of months. Gone were the days when insecurity used to be regarded as something exclusive to the Northeast.
Nigerians have woken up to the reality that there is insecurity in every part of the country today. The spotlight is on the Southeast at the moment.
The attack and the setting ablaze at the weekend of Imo State Governor Hope Uzodimma’s country home, at Omuma, Oru East Local Government, by about a dozen armed men, is the latest of what appears to be a coordinated onslaught against authorities in the region. The state government has indicated that the attack on Uzodimma’s house, which claimed the lives of eight persons, including three security personnel, is politically motivated. Residents of the town are said to be deserting their homes, following the attack on the governor’s house.
Even before the latest incident, Imo State has been in the news for the wrong reasons recently when a group of unidentified gunmen practically sacked the entire state and instilled fear into the people. In Owerri, they attacked the prison and set over 1, 800 inmates free. They burnt down vehicles at the police headquarters and attempted to burn Government House. They later attacked police stations in Mbaitolu, Orlu, and Ehime Mbano and other local government areas. The audacity and the impact have been devastating. Eyewitnesses say policemen no longer feel comfortable putting on their uniform in Imo State.
Nigeria is virtually at war in the Southeast.The attack on Governor Uzodimma’s country home came on the heels of the killing of a man simply identified as Ikonso. He is said to be the commander of the Eastern Security Network (ESN), a grassroots security outfit of the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). Ikonso was accused of coordinating the April 5 attack on the Imo State Police headquarters and the Correctional Centre in Owerri in which 38 vehicles were burnt and 1,844 inmates freed. Between last Saturday and Sunday, eight security operatives lost their lives in the hands of the terrorists in the Omuma attack in Imo State and the one that took place in Port Harcourt, Rivers State on Sunday. These must have been carried out as a form of reprisal attacks to the killing of the so-called ESN commander.
The situation in the Southeast is a gloomy one. Nigeria may be on the verge of fresh guerrilla warfare; this time in the Southeast and the region may be plunging into anarchy if the current spate of insecurity threatening it is not arrested. In recent times, several police divisional headquarters have been raided by unidentified gunmen. As a result, security agents and citizens are being killed in the hitherto peaceful region. For the past few months, a lot of concern has been raised over the continuous attacks on security personnel across the region. For instance, Ebonyi State recently suffered a plethora of coordinated attacks, which culminated in the dislocation and displacement of citizens and the killing of some security personnel. That was how the Boko Haram war started in Borno State in 2009.
With the failure of the centralised security system to address the situation, the regions have been resorting to self-help. After foot-dragging, the five governors of the Southeast, led by Ebonyi State Governor David Umahi, set up a regional security outfit, codenamed “Ebube Agu”. Ebube Agu is expected to complement the efforts of the regular police force in the area of combating kidnapping, armed robbery, as well as herdsmen and farmers contentions. The idea started from the Southwest, following the invasion of the region by herdsmen and the increase in the spate of kidnappings and assassinations. The six governors of the region had to put aside partisanship to establish the Western Nigeria Security Network, codenamed “Amotekun”.
It came on the heels of the killing of the daughter of a prominent Afenifere leader, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, Mrs. Funke Olakunrin, along Sagamu-Ore Expressway. She was killed by criminals on that expressway some three years ago. A former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae, was also abducted. Luckily, his abductors released him unharmed after some days in captivity. The decision to set up Amotekun was reached in Ibadan in June 2019, at a regional security summit at the height of insecurity in the region. After the initial opposition from the government at the centre over the legality of the outfit, Amotekun appears to have come to stay.
But, the situation in the Southeast is more complicated than that of the Southwest. For instance, while the governors of the Southeast were still considering the propriety or otherwise of such an outfit, the outlawed IPOB pulled the rug under their feet with the setting up of the ESN. IPOB spokesman, Emma Powerful was quoted as saying that the ESN was established to protect communities in the Southeast from herdsmen attacks. Since its emergence, the ESN has been at daggers drawn with security agencies of the Federal Government. It was in the midst of the growing popularity of the ESN that the Southeast governors woke up from their slumber to announce the setting up of Ebube Agu, which they believe will make a difference.
They have directed attorneys-general of the five states to propose laws to give the outfit a legal backing. This was agreed at a meeting last Sunday in Enugu, where the five governors also set up an Advisory Body for the outfit. They also agreed on the structure and operational modalities for the regional outfit which was formally launched on April 11.
The regional security outfit, it is said, will coordinate the activities of all the vigilance groups in the region, to tackle the rising spate of insecurity such as abductions, armed robbery, cultism and other sundry crimes. The most disturbing trend is the recent killing of security men in the region. Except for Enugu State, all the Southeast states have experienced these savage attacks. From Amotekun to Ebube Agu, the southern part of the country appears to have realized that some sort of regional coordination and collaboration in the area of security is required among the states to wade off kidnappers, robbers, bandits and other killers terrorising the regions.
But, given the circumstances surrounding the emergence of Ebube Agu, the Southeast governors still face the challenge of selling it to the people. Unlike Amotekun, which was instantly endorsed by the people of the Southwest, Ebube Agu appears to be facing a credibility crisis. Besides, with the five states in the region being controlled by three different political parties, can the governors trust one another to work together in the implementation of the new policy? A situation where the growing insecurity in the region is already being blamed on political opponents suggests that Ebube Agu may be used to fight real or imaginary enemies.
From the legal point of view, it would be difficult for Amotekun or Ebube Agu to succeed under the circumstances the regional outfits find themselves. The 1999 Constitution (as amended) vests the power to make laws for security formations in the country in the Exclusive List. In furtherance of this, the constitution established the armed forces, which comprises the Army, the Navy and the Airforce, as well as the Police and other government security services, and makes one man, based in Abuja, the federal capital, the sole controller of all security infrastructure.
Under this provision, there is also a constitutional duty on the governors of the 36 states of the federation to secure their respective domains. The governors are expected to work closely with the security agencies formed by the Federal Government. In the wake of the deteriorating security situation in the country, the Presidency has mandated the state governors to wake up to their responsibilities by taking charge of security in their domains because there is very little the Federal Government can do. But, the governors appear to be helpless when it comes to security matters because they are denied the wherewithal by the constitution to truly become the chief executive officers in their respective domains.
For a country as large as Nigeria and which professes to be a federal state, this is an anomaly. Maters are not helped by the fact that operatives of the security institutions have complained several times that they are not only lacking good welfare but are also not adequately equipped to do their job. As a result, criminals are having a field day. All this boils down to the fact that the current structure is faulty and the idea of restructuring may be inevitable.